High School Sports

‘I was praying’: How a junior who had never played football became Antelope’s hero

Antelope goes wild after a dramatic last-second win vs. Rocklin

Trailing 22-21 with one second on the clock, Antelope High School junior Ben Moreno kicks a field goal to win 24-22 at Rocklin High School Friday night, Aug. 17.
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Trailing 22-21 with one second on the clock, Antelope High School junior Ben Moreno kicks a field goal to win 24-22 at Rocklin High School Friday night, Aug. 17.

If the Antelope Titans are to get over the hump and win a Sac-Joaquin Section title, they’ll likely have to play one of the Sierra Foothill League stalwarts such as Granite Bay or Rocklin. So what did Titans coach Matt Ray do? He had his team roll on up to Thunder country Friday night to play Rocklin in the opening week of the 2018 prep football season.

Ray found out in a hurry that his Titans can compete with the SFL big boys in a wild game decided by Ben Moreno’s 20-yard field goal as time expired to give No. 10 Antelope a 24-22 win over No. 12 Rocklin.

Rocklin thought it had stuffed Antelope at the 3-yard line as the clock ran out. But the officials ruled that Titans quarterback Nathan Lucero spiked the ball with 0.3 seconds left, and that gave Moreno a chance to be the hero.

It was Moreno’s first game in football pads. The junior is a starting center midfielder for the Titans varsity soccer team.

“It was definitely nerve wracking,” Moreno said. “I was praying, ‘Help me make this, Lord,’ and I’m glad I got to win it for us. That was a great game and Rocklin gave us a great game.”

Sawyer Skerl’s two-point conversion run late in the fourth quarter gave the Thunder a 22-21 lead with a little more than three minutes left. Rocklin lined up for the conversion with two linemen near the ball and Skerl and quarterback Cade Wyant in the backfield. The other seven Thunder players were lined up wide near the sideline. Wyant took the handoff, ran upfield but slipped the ball to Skerl just before the goal line.

Antelope drove 62 yards to Thunder 3 but were stopped. Or so the Thunder thought. Rocklin players and coaches couldn’t believe that the officials spotted the ball with 0.3 seconds remaining.

“Their guys weren’t set,” Rocklin coach Greg Benzel said. “But like I told my team right after the game, it shouldn’t come down to the officials, an official’s bad call. I think we were better than that team, and it shouldn’t have come down to that.”

Ray disputed Benzel’s account of the finale.

“The clock guy for them did a great job of running off time,” Ray said. “He did it to us in the first half, too. We got (0.3) but I thought there was at least a second left. Plenty of time.”

Despite the dispute, the Antelope vs. SFL early and perhaps postseason matchups will likely continue.

“The SFL is one of the best leagues in the area, maybe the state,” Ray said. “We’ve done the undefeated thing. We’ve been successful the last four years, but it’s time to up our schedule because when we get to the end of the schedule we’ve played these teams.”

Ray’s squad looked fast to the ball on defense and could either run between the tackles when a short gain was needed or air it out on the flanks.

“I think we’re pretty balanced and we’re young,” Ray said. “We have some great athletes who are explosive so I’m excited to see how it happens and how they’re going to perform in the show. After 20 days since the start it was time to play someone else.”

The Titans’ senior core of leaders includes Carter Sullivan, Carlos Franco, Mhari Roberts and Keith Brown, Ray said.

“Coach Ray runs a hell of a program. They’re physical and disciplined,” Benzel said. “Antelope belongs with the best teams in Sacramento. They haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they will soon. They know that to get better you have to play quality programs and that’s what they’re doing.”

Rocklin senior quarterback Cade Wyant and Liam Mays already look to be in mid-season form. Wyant found the lanky senior wideout all over the field and for a 2-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter that was a response to Roberts’ 2-yard run to open the scoring. The duo later combined on a 20-yard pass play that set up Skerl’s two-point conversion run. Skerl was a dynamo on both sides of the ball. He had the stop on Brian Talley that Rocklin thought sealed the win before Moreno’s game-winning boot.

“Sawyer Skerl is under everybody’s radar but he’s an every-down, every-play guy who is as tough as they get and he’s a great teammate,” Benzel said.

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